Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sea beans

I wear a necklace all the time that is a brown cord with a smoooth shiny brown bead on it, quite large. It is a sea bean, a hamburger bean to be exact. They are the seeds of vines that grow in the amazon forest, and some say in Africa, although this remains unconfirmed. They, like most beans, grow in long pods, some of them up to two feet long. The pods fall from the vines into the rivers and float away. Gradually, the pod decomposes, and the beans are released to float away. Many arrive on the windward beaches in the Bahamas, having been carried by wind and tide so far. They cannot germinate in the Bahamas, there is almost no soil and it is very very dry. A far cry from their origins. The Bahamians pay little mind to them, but for the cruisers, they are prizes. There are several different types. The hamburger I wear is smaller, less that an inch across, and has a ridge around it's middle of lighter brown. Picture a hamburger and you've got it. There are also heart beans, larger and darker, which we have been amazed to see in quite a bit of jewlery here. Cruisers generally view it as too large for this, but there are quite a few necklaces for sale with quite bulky beads. We asked a vendor and they get them shipped in from Brazil.
Knickerbocker beans are smaller and sand coloured so quite hard to find, although we have seen them for sale as game pieces in a mancala game in Barcelona. Bay beans, do grow in the Bahamas on a suprisingly slender grass. They are smaller and resemble dried beans you might get at the grocers, although they are a lovely light woody brown and naturally shiny. If you find one there, you've found a lot. The rarest are button beans, or mary beans. These sea beans are small and brown and have an indented X or cross on one side, resembling a buttong on a duffle coat, of if turned, the cross. They are very unusual, and the story goes that on some of the islands, they are handed down frommother to daughter as help during childbirth. I have only ever seen one when a friend found it while we were all together.

When walking the beaches finding a sea bean is a bit of an effort, especially at first. Like mushroom hunting, which I did last summer with my brother-in-law from Poland where they are mad for mushrooms, you need to develop an eye for what you are looking for, and until that appears, you will walk past many treasures entirely unseen. The beans are light and float high and get blown far up the beach, so they are rare to find at the water level, if you do, they have washed ashore at just that moment and are obviously meant. They are exciting to find, in a beach bum kind of way, or like in childhood on an easter egg hunt, although here you aren't sure anyone hid the eggs so the finding is more exciting. The bit I love most is how warm they are in your hand when you pick them up. Hot and toasty lying in the tropical sun for so long. Some days you hit a beach where no one has been and you find many, 30 or 40. We have friends on Long Island who found 80 one day, but they were the first hunters on a beach after hurricane season and the picking was amazing. One or two is more normal, and a great day is 5 or 6 on a likely beach. Over time you end up with quite a few, and we have a small selection on our dining room table along with some shells and lovely rocks we have found.
Beach bum fun, and it is.
My necklace reminds me of the fun of hunting the beach for them while my kids hunt and play, and the friends we've hunted with and taught and of the amazing journey the beans have made, growing in the Amazon, floating the Caribbean Sea riding currents and blown by the wind and then washing up the beach to lie heated by the sun on the beach. It was also made by friends and given to us by them, making it sweeter still.


Nomad said...


The little button bean with the crossy thingy...sooo it helps with childbirth exactly how??

***wrinkled brow***


What a great story with some lovely images...Yeah the beach bum thing...ahhhhh...could really go for that right about now...

oreneta said...

Ooooo you are so good with the comments, thank you. Makes me feel guilty about how long it took to leave comments on your sight. As far as I know, you don't actually do anything with the button beans, simply hold it. The bean and the cross together most likely fulfill some pre-christian rite with talismans in time of danger, that carried on because it could be rationalized because of the cross. And the rarity.

Nomad said...

Are you kidding, I am SO tickeld to be able to talk to you...

You know?